On the 8th April I wrote on the subject title ‘Living to die’ and now I am writing a daughter’s reflection on the passing of my mother, Valma Jean, on 13th April 2019. My mother was 92 years old.
On my last post I wrote about my sister Christine and I spending time with our mother, 9-12 hours a day. We did this not because it was our duty but because we loved our mother. My other siblings, Trish, Debbie and Michael also spent time with our mother in between work and family commitments.
Christine and I concluded by Wednesday 10th April that our mother was in the active phase of dying and likely had three-four days left before she transitioned from this earth. Our mother was very tired and sleeping most of the day. Then on Thursday 11th April the doctor arrived!
He checked our mother’s chest and told her that it sounded good. He told her she had recovered from a chest infection (identified while she was in hospital). The doctor asked Valma if there was anything he could he help her with? She said, ‘Can you find me a boyfriend’? The doctor laughed. Then Valma said, ‘Can you do the jitterbug?’ More laughter. He told her that his son would be better at the jitterbug, than him. Valma was enjoying life the best she could until the very end.
The doctor told my mother she was physically well, blood pressure was okay and that she should get dressed, sit in her chair and start eating and drinking. Pointing to his head and looking at Christine and I he said it was all in her head. I mentioned to the doctor about her heart condition, aortic stenosis which was in the severe range – no comment! The doctor left.
Later, Christine and I told the nurse-in-charge we were in shock regarding the doctor’s comments. We questioned ourselves. Were we misreading the signs? Given time, would our mother recover?
On the Thursday night, less than forty-eight hours before my mother passed she had a difficult night. Nursing staff followed up with the doctor and asked for other medication. By Friday 12th April the nurse-in-charge said they would respond to what my mother was saying and how she was feeling. A palliative care plan was approved. By mid-day Friday 11th April she was sleeping and made comfortable.
What I realised on reflection is that there is a big difference between checking briefly on elderly people in aged care versus spending lengthy periods of time with them. Or at least looking for changes and documenting these. Christine and I recognised the changes, we recognised the signs.
Later that evening when I had just gone to bed, Christine got a phone call from the aged care home telling us that our mother’s breathing was irregular. We immediately left to be with her. We stayed all night.
Meditation music was playing softly in the background. Christine lay beside Valma on the bed, I stroked her hair. She loved having her hair stroked. We talked to her, we told her we loved her, all her family loved her. It is important to talk in such situations just like you are having a conversation with your loved one. Hearing is the last one of the senses to go when people are dying.
At 5.30am Saturday 13th April, after our night with our mother, Christine and I were awake. Not that we had much sleep as every two and a half house the nurses would come in, turn on the main light, to attend to our mother. Around 6.10am Christine and I made a cup of soup. I was re-arranging the bedside table so that the nurses had more room when they attended to her throughout the day. At 6.18am Christine said to me ‘I think she’s gone’. We both looked inquisitively at our mother, looking for signs of life. There were none. We pressed the call button. Very soon it was confirmed, our mother had passed away.
My mother Valma Jean passed away peacefully. The woman I had known for 70 years had gone to a better place. A place where there was no more sorrow, but only joy.
Our mother was an easy person for her children to love. She was an easy person for others to love. She was a true survivor given the different trials that crossed her path in life. Therefore, it was not by chance that Valma, my mother, was a woman of resilience.
When Valma was growing up her father worked for Queensland Rail and the family moved regularly living in places including, Toowoomba, Innisfail, Gladstone and Charleville. Valma had to continually adapt to new circumstances, change schools and make new friends. These experiences built and developed her character as an outoing, caring and friendly person.
Valma’s mother Clarice was born at the family home, The Laurels, Helidon. Valma was very much loved by her maternal grandparents Albert and Mary Wilkinson. She spent many happy times staying there with her grand-parents, seeing her aunts, uncles and cousins. Waking up to the crow of the roosters, the smell of the wood burning stove and the country air of Helidon in the 1920’s, 1930’s and beyond. On one occasion, when she was around 3 years old her Uncle Les Wilkinson told her to stand in the palm of his hand. She did and a photo was taken. I have seen the photo. She had complete trust in her Uncle Les.
Valma spent every Christmas at The Laurels, Helidon, until she was 33 years old. After this time, Christmas gatherings were sporadic due to my parents moving into the role of publicans at the Grand Hotel, Toowoomba (now the Norville Hotel). Our mother juggled bringing up five girls and building a hotel business. Our brother Michael was born later.
My name for my mother was ‘Sweet Flower’. The day after my mother passed I was pleased to see a vase with three flowers sitting at her dining room table, the place where she ate all her meals. Three other women sat at her table. She was only in the aged care home for 6 months, prior to that she was living independently in her retirement village unit.
We had a celebration of her life on Tuesday 16th April, 2019. I know she is at peace. I saw this on her face. I had the privilege of being with my mother when she passed. I am comforted knowing that she is safe and secure, in the palm of God’s hands.